“But at the time, it brought peace and, for example, gave Ukraine a lot of time, namely seven years, to become what it is today,” she said. If there had been no intervention then, she added, “Putin could have done huge damage to Ukraine.”
She said the sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea in 2014 “could have been stronger as far as I am concerned”, but added that at the time there was no sentiment in the majority.
“We also did nothing,” she said, noting that Russia had been expelled from the Group of Eight and that NATO had set a goal of spending 2% of its gross domestic product on defense.
Merkel also strongly defended the decision in 2008 not to put Ukraine directly on the path to NATO membership, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in early April called a “mistake.”
NATO promised in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia would one day become members. But French and German concerns over Russia’s response have dashed their hopes of a “membership action plan” that would lead them to join the alliance in five to ten years.
Merkel said that “Ukraine was not what we know today”, saying that it is a country very divided and dominated by oligarchs. “It was not an internally democratically stable country,” she said.
She suggested that a stronger NATO green light for Ukraine in 2008 would lead to faster Russian aggression, and Ukraine would be less able to resist.
“I was very sure that Putin would not allow that,” she said. “For him, from his point of view, it was a declaration of war … I don’t share any of it, but I knew how he thought.”
Referring to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, which she has long defended against criticism from the United States, Ukraine and Eastern European allies, Merkel said Putin had invaded Ukraine without waiting for it to come into operation.
The government of current Chancellor Olaf Scholz halted the project in February.
His administration also decided to supply weapons to Ukraine.
Merkel said she was against it when she was chancellor because Germany and France were trying to head diplomacy.
“Today is no longer on the agenda – it’s a different time,” she said.